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Spitzer posts budget victories

Eliot L. Spitzer, who aspired to be the governor of New York State, made campaign pledges that appealed to the voters who elected him by historic margins. After his first few months in office he has shown that his campaign pledges were meaningful and would become realities. Spitzer, highly successful as a prosecutor, has launched a career as a government executive that even his most ardent supporters could not have anticipated.

Spitzer started his administration by doing what his opponents thought would be his undoing, criticizing legislators, including many from his own party, for their selection of a state comptroller. However, after an initial burst of recriminations, that was soon forgotten.

The governor shortly moved into action, announcing a property tax cut guaranteed to keep most of his constituency happy. He proposed a cut that the legislature cut back to $1.3 billion, $200 million less than what he proposed but totaling $6 billion over three years. It was a significant win for the governor, who previously had expressed his strong concern about property tax loads. He said that the reduction in taxes would result in real savings for middle class home owners.

The governor is particularly pleased by the approval of an additional $1.8 billion in new spending for education. The much-needed school aid dollars, initially aimed particularly at poor urban and rural districts, also turned into assistance for suburban districts as well. Additional dollars will go to Cheektowaga, Cleveland Hill, Sloan, Springville, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Kenmore-Tonawanda, West Seneca, Niagara-Wheatfield and Niagara Falls.

Because of these changes, Buffalo received less than 1 percent more than the governor had proposed. The city now will receive $562 million in state aid. When building aid is removed, Buffalo will receive a $41 million state aid hike for 2007-08. This compares with a $36 million increase for the current school year.

While the monetary allocation of the school aid was not what the governor wanted, it most likely was arrived at in the behind-the-scenes negotiations the governor engaged in with the Assembly and Senate leadership. Compromises reached in these sessions are often disappointing but politically necessary to reach agreement.

The governor has indicated he is planning a number of steps to curtail the state's Medicaid costs, which are the highest in the country. He says that containing these costs continues to be one of his priorities.

Meanwhile, the governor says he will continue to challenge legislators of both parties. "I believe," he said, "I have sent a message to the Legislature and I haven't changed one iota in that regard."

Spitzer has gotten his administration off to an excellent start. He's had to make some compromises but that's not unexpected in a state that has one legislative body controlled by Democrats and another by Republicans.

In addition to the areas I've cited, the governor has incorporated other items in his budget that are noteworthy. For example, he has included money for stem cell research, an important area that his predecessor did not address.

The governor certainly did not achieve all he had hoped for but nobody could have expected that to occur. If his level of accomplishment remains the same as he's achieved at this point, his political future will be very interesting.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News

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